Skip to main content

A big week for Nets' Joe Johnson, Road to Brooklyn features him with Rosie Perez (and Nelson George cameo); Brooklyn magazine puts him on cover (and who buys back page?)

Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson is not having a great season--some wonder if he's earning his lucrative contract--but he's having a good week. He won last night's game with a buzzer-beater. And he's all over the media.

In the seventh and latest episode of the Road to Brooklyn web series on Jay-Z's Life + Times channel, "Brooklyn Welcomes Joe Johnson." That means actress Rosie Perez--the one-time Atlantic Yards opponent turned arena public address voice of warning--takes Johnson around Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, and to Gleason's Gym.

(Some of this footage did double time on NBA TV's The Association, another series.)

There's a bit of a contradiction. Perez praises her neighborhood by saying a "majority are mom-and-pop businesses," and "you don't see a Starbucks." Unmentioned: there's one at the arena.

"I'm looking forward to the increased pride that's already prevalent in Brooklyn," declares Perez. "We're going to have our own basketball team." That, of course, is a common conflation, but valid really only in a place like Green Bay, WI, where the community owns the team.

Later, Perez says that she tried Manhattan but didn't like it, because "there were so many people on the street, so much traffic, so many loud people." Isn't that one of the concerns about the overall Atlantic Yards project?

A few visitors, including Nelson George

Lower East Side-raised (and Fort Greene/Clinton Hill resident) graffiti artist Lee Quinones and Bronx-born Sadat X of Brand Nubian, now a Brooklynite, join Perez and Johnson at Madiba, the South African restaurant in Fort Greene.

"Since the Brooklyn Dodgers left, people felt like they've been shorthanded here," declares Quinones, channeling a common Markowitzian line.

And there's a cameo by Fort Greene author, filmmaker, and cultural critic Nelson George, who welcomes Johnson.

George, who wrote a seminal book on basketball, Elevating the Game, was also known as an opponent of Atlantic Yards (on the DDDB Advisory Board), and wrote, in an April 2009 Times essay, "I fear that this new Fort Greene of high-rises, planned sports arenas and traffic jams won’t be a very congenial place for a middle-aged black author."

I sent George a query: "Were you just helping out a friend like Rosie? Were you expressing your acceptance of the arena? Or just that you're a big basketball fan?"

George's answer was yes to all three--he was invited to stop by, said "Hello," and left. He said he's been to the arena and enjoyed the games. The sports crowds, he observed, have been well-behaved, though some music crowds have not. And he's still wary of the larger project, given the towers and significant population increase nearby.

In September, George mentioned the arena on Twitter and was asked about his stance:
He's since gone to three games and commented:
A final stop

Perez takes Johnson to Gleason's Gym, where he spars a bit with Sean Malcolm of King Magazine.

Johnson says he's been impressed with the people, how they've embraced him and the Nets.

"You ready for this, this whole big thing?" asks Perez.

"Joe Ready Johnson, I'm ready," he responds.

In Brooklyn magazine

The glossy quarterly lifestyle magazine Brooklyn offers a cover story on Johnson, "Brooklyn Superstar," a term that he hasn't consistently earned.

It explains that, for him, the move from Atlanta to New York City (TriBeCa, in between New Jersey practice facility and Brooklyn arena), was eased by high-priced help:
The Los Angeles-based Etc. Agency helped Johnson find his partially furnished new home, finished furnishing it, and generally comfied the place up to his particular taste. To get a pro athlete fully settled in a new city—to transfer luxury cars, high-end jewelry, and vintage sneaker collections across the country—takes them approximately two weeks.
Though he did get out with Perez, he's otherwise busy:
Barclays’ food vendor lines are consciously filled with hood-specific names like Fatty ‘Cue, Calexico, and Red Hook Lobster Pound, but a pro athlete’s in-season schedule hasn’t allowed Johnson to venture out to their home bases, or even establish any personal favorite restaurants, yet. (He did make a pilgrimage to old-Brooklyn cheesecake kingpins Junior’s, however. Verdict: “pretty nice.”) Really, outside of the arena, Johnson’s only had brief windows to explore his new Brooklyn community, mixing and mingling with newfound Nets fans and local kids at team-sponsored events.
So maybe Johnson's a Brooklynite, maybe he's not. But he's a local celebrity connected to Brooklyn's highest-profile business, a big spender on advertising--take a look at the back cover of the magazine (left) --and surely that helps.